AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn Mailbag is back in game shape this week. Arkansas will visit Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday evening for the latest installment in what has been an odd rivalry with Auburn, and that means the readers here are locked into football mode again.
This week’s edition of the Auburn Mailbag takes on the topics of Auburn’s most improved positional unit over the course of the season’s first half, the Arkansas run defense, statistical predictions for Saturday, redshirt protocol, hot dogs and something that would be heretical for most Tigers fans.
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@Joe706: What is the most improved unit through the season from game one until now?
Without question, it’s the offensive line. In the first postgame report card of the season, I gave Auburn’s offensive line’s performance against Clemson an “F,” and that’s the only one of those I’ve handed out all year.
Through the first three games of the season, Auburn’s offensive line allowed the most negative plays of any team in college football. Through the last three games, they’ve only allowed 11 more, which is good enough for an average that would rank in the Top 10 nationally.
The shuffle that caused Austin Golson to move back to center and brought in Darius James at left tackle has been a boost. Golson looks more comfortable at center, and James is the best-looking tackle on the roster. Right tackle Robert Leff has stepped his game up over the last few games, too. This unit is finally hitting its stride.
@DanInNc_Ohrly21: Is Arky’s run defense really as bad as it seems on paper?
On paper, it’s an eyesore. Arkansas’ run defense has allowed 5.57 yards per carry this season, which ranks 123rd nationally. It’s also allowed 17 rushing touchdowns in seven games, which ranks 112th nationally. Now take into account the fact Arkansas has faced the eighth-fewest rushing attempts per game of any team in the FBS.
A lot of those struggles come down to a lack of numbers in the back end of the defense. As SEC Country’s own Jason Kersey told me this week in An Opposing View, linebacker depth has been one of the biggest weaknesses of the team so far this season. Once teams get into the second level on the ground, they’re running against a depleted unit.
Arkansas has allowed three or more rushing touchdowns to four different opponents this season and surrendered a devastating 366 yards on just 37 carries to Texas A&M. FCS program Alcorn State even averaged 4.08 yards per pop on Arkansas. This is an area Auburn should be able to exploit Saturday.
@WarDamnRYAN: Does Pettway or Johnson eclipse 200 yards Saturday night? Does White eclipse 300 yards?
Although I just spent the previous answer talking about how bad Arkansas’ run defense is this season, I still don’t see a 200-plus-yard day from either Kamryn Pettway or Kerryon Johnson on Saturday night. Remember that Arkansas loves to hold onto the ball offensively — it’s No. 2 nationally in average time of possession — and that takes away Auburn’s chances for truly huge numbers in this matchup.
If both Johnson and Pettway are healthy enough to run Saturday night, I don’t think either of them will get a 200-yard game. I think the rotation between the two will spread the yardage evenly against a team that likes to limit total yardage. However, if Pettway has to become an ironman again in case another Johnson injury absence, he could flirt with 200.
Also, Arkansas has only allowed 300-plus passing yards to one opponent this season — TCU. Since then, no one has cracked 253 yards in a single game. Sean White should be able to spread the ball around against the Arkansas defense, but it’s hard to believe he’ll make a big jump in yardage Saturday without another game that goes deep into some overtimes.
@L_Crosby: Feels like Auburn doesn’t use redshirts as aggressively as they could. Why not? Recruiting related reasons?
I think you’re not seeing as many redshirts in the past couple of seasons from Auburn because the Tigers have made a huge emphasis on signing prospects who can contribute immediately. Auburn has had several key areas of need — especially running back and wide receiver — that have demanded players who can jump into the rotation from day one.
In the class of 2016 alone, Auburn has a true freshman starter (Marlon Davidson), a No. 2 receiver (Kyle Davis), a needed reserve running back (Kam Martin), a backup defensive tackle (Derrick Brown) and a pair of rotation pieces at wide receiver (Nate Craig-Myers and Eli Stove).
There are some obvious redshirt candidates (Woody Barrett, Prince Sammons, Nick Coe) in that class, but the Tigers brought a lot of those on to contribute as true freshmen. You’ll see more redshirts along the offensive line and in the secondary now that quality depth has beeen built there.
But Auburn is going to a lot of these blue-chip players’ homes and telling them they need to play now in order to get the Tigers back to where they want to be. So far this season, it’s working.
@Timothy_Mathis: I’m torn… I can’t bring myself to cheer for Bama, ever! But this week them beating A&M would be good for Auburn. What do I do?
College football has a way of making it advisable to cheer for your hated rivals every once in a while. This week could be one of those times for Auburn fans. If Texas A&M drops a loss to Alabama, there’s a chance that the Iron Bowl could be for the SEC West title in November.
Now, plenty of things would have to happen for that to come about, including Auburn winning all the way to Tuscaloosa. It’s possible, but it’s tough. If that happens, there’s a scenario in which Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M all finish the season with one loss in the division. According to the SEC’s tiebreaker rules, the clincher would eventually be the “best cumulative Conference winning percentage of non-divisional opponents.”
Auburn would be in a bind there, as Texas A&M and Alabama would have Tennessee’s winning percentage in their favor, while Auburn would be stuck with Georgia and Vanderbilt. In that case, a three-way tie at the end might not be the best move for Auburn. The ideal way for Auburn to get to Atlanta would be to win out and have Texas A&M to lose two of its remaining conference games. Fortunately for Auburn fans who don’t want to cheer for Alabama, that doesn’t have to be against the Tide — Texas A&M still has to face Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU.
So if cheering for Alabama is so against your DNA as a fan, just pull for the Mississippi schools and LSU later in the season. (Or cheer for Texas A&M and know that it probably won’t matter, because this Alabama team looks practically unbeatable at the moment.)
@golfwizkid: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Ah, yes, the question that drives the Internet insane. Earlier this year, Merriam-Webster defined a hot dog as a sandwich. The ruling didn’t sit well with a lot of hot dog fans, but the dictionary’s logic was sound.
A hot dog is meat and toppings inside bread. So shouldn’t that be classified as a sandwich, even though the bread isn’t the traditional two slices for most sandwiches? Think about something like a cheesesteak or a meatball sub. Those are commonly made with split rolls, much like a hot dog. Aren’t those still classified as sandwiches?
It’s not a typical sandwich, but it has similar characteristics. I would personally side with Merriam-Webster here and consider a hot dog to be a sandwich. However, it really doesn’t matter much to me personally. I hate hot dogs, no matter their classification.